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[Page 74]


The Righteous, Illustrious Rabbi, Our Rabbi and Teacher,
Rabbi Avraham David of Blessed Memory,
President of the Court in Buchach

Translated by Betsy Halpern-Amaru

(The chapter is taken from the book, Dor Deah, written by Yekutiel Kammelhar and published in Risha 1, Galicia.)



And there came forth a shoot out of the stock of our teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Shmuel Edels (Maharsha), of blessed memory, an illustrious, holy rabbi, a pillar of instruction and marvelous posek – our illustrious rabbi and teacher, Avraham David of blessed memory, the author of Da'at Kedoshim, president of the court in Buchach, who is remembered with holy feelings yet today in his city as “the Zaddik.”

He was born on the sixth of Adar in the year 5531 (February 20, 1771, NP) in the city of Nadvorna 2 , to our teacher, Rabbi Asher Anshel, an “eminent scholar” (indeed, he would refer to his father by that title), and to Marat 3 Rachel, of blessed memory, his righteous mother. As he grew to a lad, he demonstrated wonderful, outstanding abilities and, throughout the city and its environs he was renowned as a “wonder-child.” By the time he was nine, he was already very erudite in Talmud (Shas) and the Poskim 4 . The great rabbinic scholars were amazed by him and rejoiced in the glorious brilliance of the lad, Avraham David. One of them, the master and sage, our great illustrious Rabbi Meshulam Igra, of blessed memory, president of the court of Tismenitz 5 was once in Nadvorna. In the year 5540 he set out in his carriage, hoisted his standard onto the wheel of the wagon, and upon seeing the prodigy, extended his hand to him and brought him up into the carriage where he spoke with him about his studies. He asked him various questions and the young lad gave proper and profound responses. He believed a great future awaited the genius and that he would become “a rabbinic authority in Israel and a wonder to all the learned of that generation.”

The illustrious rabbi, our teacher, our rabbi, David Shlomo Eibenschutz, of blessed memory, author of “Levushei Serad,” was teaching Torah to the young Jews in Nadvorna at that time. He put him to the test and commanded him to read several pages from some tractate. The lad read with such intelligence and great understanding that he was very amazed at the breadth of his knowledge and the sharpness of his intellect. Thus his reputation became known throughout the region. The illustrious rabbi, our rabbi and teacher, Zvi Hersh Kro, president of the Court in Buchach, heard of his reputation and traveled to Nadvorna to examine him closely. Thereupon he realized that he had not been told even half of what the lad was capable of. He came to agreement with his father, Rabbi Asher Enshel, of blessed memory, regarding a marriage; and he took his son, the wondrous lad, Avraham David, as a groom for his daughter. The years of childhood passed and when he became Bar Mitzvah, he also became one of the students of the head of community, our holy rabbi and teacher, the Magid, of blessed memory, from Nadvorna.

A year after his wedding, the illustrious Rabbi Meshulam, of blessed memory, from Tismenitz came to the community of Buchach, his birthplace. Members of his family lived there and he was given the honor of giving a d'rash 6 on the Sabbath. All the learned men and Torah scholars of the city came to hear. Among them was the young Avraham David, son-in-law of the president of the court; and he stood off to the side. The illustrious one presented his interpretation with such intricacies that all of the learned were exhausted from trying to follow and comprehend the acute depth of his presentation. As our illustrious Rabbi Meshulam gazed at the faces of the listeners to see if they understood what he was saying, he realized that there was not one man who had not been challenged beyond his ability. And he said: “ Behold, only that young man standing in the remote corner can understand what I have to say.”

He was still living with his father-in-law, the illustrious president of the court of Buchach, our rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Kro – author of “Netah Shaashuim,” responsa addressed to the greats of that generation who were accustomed to coming to him to inquire in regard to matters of halacha – when the illustrious Rabbi Meshulam Igra, of blessed memory, president of the court of Tismenitz announced that he had assumed the position of rabbi for the Pressberg congregation. The rabbis of the area came to take leave of him and asked him to whom they should turn with their most difficult questions. He told them that he was leaving behind the illustrious Rabbi Zvi Hersh Kro, president of the court in Buchach, who possessed prodigious, extraordinary knowledge, and that they should turn to him with any matter that was difficult for them. Living in a city filled with wise men and scribes, he became even more proficient in Torah, his wisdom grew to even greater heights, and he thrived like “a tree planted by springs of water.” There he also found a good friend who became like a brother, the youth Reb Hayim who subsequently became God's shepherd, the illustrious, holy rabbi and teacher, Hayim, president of the court of Czernovitz, of blessed memory, author of “Be'er Mayim Hayim,” of “Siddur shel Shabbat,” “Shaar ha'Tifila,” and “Eretz Hahayyim.” At that time he lived there in Buchach and the two of them were attentive friends until they became rabbis, shepherds of the God of Israel.

2.

When the prestigious rabbi, Rabbi Avraham David was twenty, he was appointed as rabbi, president of the court of Yazlovitz 7 , which is close to Buchach. It was his custom in religious matters to write down in a page of a book all the teachings and legal decisions he had made in the course of the day and to review them before going to bed that night in order to see if he might have made any error in judgment. Consequently, he made it an inviolable rule to develop a new interpretation of eighteen halachot each week. In the course of years, he thereby came to initiate myriads of innovative halachic interpretations, treasures stored in manuscripts that he left after him. Lest someone should come to ask for instruction, he never drank alcohol. However, in order to fulfill the saying of Haz'al – “a person is required to become intoxicated on Purim” – he would wait until midnight, a time when he knew for sure that the people of the town were deep in slumber, and would drink a little honey water to fulfill the commandment of Haz'al.

His daily routine at that time involved the regular daily prayers, thereafter helping his son with his morning prayers, and then sitting immersed in Torah for fourteen hours in his beit midrash where he would provide instruction for each questioner. Day and night there was no break in this routine until his eyes would begin to fail. Not wanting to interrupt his teaching, he did not readily respond even then, because the Torah not only nurtured his soul and spirit, but also was a remedy for his body.

He heightened the spiritual level of the people of his city to the highest degree of pure piety. Once when the holy rabbi, our rabbi and teacher, the Maharam, of sacred memory, from Premishlan 8 passed through Yazlovits, he sensed the piety in every passageway and corner and said: “this is the power of the Rabbi, the Zaddik, Rabbi Avraham David who has been occupied in holy work here for twenty-four years.

He has breathed a pure, holy spirit into his reprimands and into his sermons on ethics and piety.” It was also his custom when he would officiate at weddings that before beginning the first part of the ceremony, he would awaken the heart of each groom with his teachings about ethics, righteousness, and piety. Even once he became president of the court in Buchach, the future grooms from the community of Yazlovits would come to him for a blessing before their weddings and he would teach them ethics (Musar). It is told that one time the Rabbi Zaddik asked a groom who had come to be blessed if his father and father-in-law would be providing basic support for him after the wedding. He replied that his father would be giving him support for three years and his father-in-law for another three years. The Rabbi Zaddik responded lyrically: “My son, take care to watch over your learning with great constancy during those six years. The learning of one who “worries” is a pressed impression; the Torah that one learns when one is worrying about earning a livelihood is only a rubbing, an impression and is not absorbed internally. Therefore, during the six years that you have sustenance without worry, be zealous to learn Torah and this Torah will guide you in every way all the days of your life.”

3.

Although the illustrious Zaddik, Rabbi Avraham David, was a disciple of the Magggid of Nadvorna in his youth, when he subsequently sat at the table of his father-in-law, our illustrious rabbi and teacher Zvi Hersh Kro, president of the court in Buchach, who was among the Mitnagdim, he left his Hasidism and went the path of his father-in-law who conducted himself like the gaonim before him. But it was the will of God that Rabbi Avraham David would also be one of the righteous men ( zaddikim ) of the generation and a worker of wonders. Thus, it suddenly happened that his only son, his first born, fell ill with a life-threatening illness (heaven help him), which the physicians despaired of healing. At that time the holy rabbi, the glory of Israel, our teacher, rabbi Levi Yitzhak, of blessed memory, from Berdichev and author of “Kedushat Levi,” came to the city Rimalov 9 . The entire city was amazed at the coming of this Zaddik and worker of miracles to their land. The rabbi's wife told him that he should go with his only son to the Zaddik from Berdichev who would bless the child and cure him of his illness. Since the doing would take time away from his study of Torah, the rabbi did not want to hear this. So the rebbitzen went to the heads of the congregation and begged them that they entreat their rabbi to have compassion for her and for their only son and travel with him to Rimalov, to the Rav, the Zaddik from Berdichev. They did so. After much urging, the rabbi was convinced. Together with the sick child and accompanied by several other members of the community, he went to Rimalov, which was not far from Yazlovits. When they arrived at the lodging place, it was time for the morning prayers and the illustrious righteous rabbi, our rabbi and teacher, Avraham David, prepared for prayer. On his way to the Beit Midrash he met up with one of the attendants of the righteous rabbi from Berdichev and asked him when the Zaddik from Berdichev would be praying and when he would be able to come to see him. He answered him that the Zaddik from Berdichev stayed awake all night and only now would be lying down to rest a bit, and when he awoke he would prepare himself for prayer which itself would last until after midday. Thereafter he would be able to come to see him. And so it was. After midday the attendant came to his lodging to summon him to the Zaddik from Berdichev. When he came before him, the holy rabbi from Berdichev asked him why he had come and he told him that it certainly had been difficult to interrupt the business of Torah, but due to the great urging of significant members of his congregation, he had come to get a blessing for this sick son. The holy rabbi asked him: “And where is your sick son?” And he responded that the lad was here in the lodge. The holy rabbi from Berdichev told his attendant to bring the sick boy into his presence. When he was brought before him, the Zaddik from Berdichev placed his hands on his head and blessed him. He said to his father, the rabbi from Yazlovitz: “God, my he be blessed, would completely heal him and from your, this first born, you will be worthy to see sons and grandsons who are God-fearing and greatly learned in Torah…” (And so it was). When the holy rabbi finished his blessing, the illustrious rabbi, president of the court of Yazlovits, put forth his hand in greeting to make his departure and travel home, the holy rabbi said to him: “Why are you in such a hurry to leave, right when I have found a soul mate?” He greatly urged him to remain; and he acquiesced to the request. The holy rabbi of Berdichev told his companions to return with the sick boy to their home and the rabbi, president of the holy court, would remain with him for a few days to enjoy Torah with him. He blessed them and they returned home with the sick boy in whom signs of recovery were immediately evident. Their rabbi remained with the holy rabbi of Berdichev until after Shabbat. Then he was forced to travel with the holy rabbi to the community of Skalat. From there the holy rabbi of Berdichev did not let him return to his house, but rather had him come with him to Berdichev where he stayed around six weeks and learned from the holy rabbi Barzin Eylein (?). Thereafter the holy rabbi bestowed upon him a parting blessing and he returned to his place, to the community of Yazlovits.

Upon his arrival from Berdichev, filled with enthusiasm and spirituality, with “life” burning as coals, his first deed was to remove from his house every penny of interest that the Rebbizin had taken from her loans– she lent money to people from the dowry she had brought from her father's house. He called her and commanded her to do an accounting of all who had borrowed from her over the course of the years in which she had been making loans and return to them any interest she had taken from them. Neither protests nor tears by the Rebbezin helped; she was forced to do as he has ordered. Not a thing remained in their house. Indeed, she had to sell her own ornaments in order to have the full amount that she needed in order to refund the borrowers. Consequently, they were left bare and penniless; the income they received from the community was sufficient only for scanty rations and a little water; and she suffered everything in silence. Her husband, the righteous rabbi, began to occupy himself with kabbalah and entered the garden of the holy Zohar, the writings of Ha'Ari, and of our rabbi and teacher Hayim Vital, may his memory be blessed for eternal life. With storms of his spirit, he attempted to ascend to a level beyond his abilities; and the spiritual powers within him struggled with each other and in the struggling, they broke forth with no restraint to their boundaries. Thus, he went outside, wrapped in talit and teffilin and in the town center called on God to sanctify his name. When heads and men of his community saw this, they took him and brought him to the house of the illustrious, holy rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Leib Misasov, of blessed memory and he had influence over his spirit and brought the inner storms to quiet. So the illustrious rabbi, our rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Avraham David himelf would tell it at the beginning of his book, “Tefilat L'David,” where he blesses “gomel,” and gives thanks to God. Thus he would say: I rested and was quieted by coming to my teacher and rabbis, the honorable, great rabbi, the famous Hasid, a holy man of God, our teacher the Rabbi Moshe Yehudah Labit, of blessed memory, who was the envoy of the Merciful-One. He drew over me immediate deliverance for the sake of kindness and graciousness themselves, not for my sake. As one removes paper from the flask, so he turned away the foolishness, the impatience, the confusions, and the discord that I had felt from beginning to end, with no inner peace between the way of Hasidism and that of Talmud – all this he removed from me”. And he returned to his home healthy and whole.

4.

After the death of his father-in-law, the illustrious teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Kro, of blessed memeory, president of the court in Buchach and author of the book of responsa, “Neta Sha'ashuim,” on the 8th day of the month of Shevat in the year 5674, the illustrious Zaddik, president of the court of Yazlovitz, was accepted as a replacement for his father-in-law, i.e., to serve as rabbi of the community of Buchach. In coming there, he directed that all questions involving forbidden and permitted matters would come before him and he would respond to every questioner except in civil matters. For that area, he instead appointed his firstborn son, the illustrious Rabbi Israel Aryeh Leib, of blessed memory, together with two judges who would be judges of civil matters. Only when the litigants forcefully requested that only the president of the court would sit in judgment of their case, would he deal with civil matters. In such instances, the court would present the claims and counterclaims to him in the name of “Reuben” and “Simeon” so that he would not know who the real litigants were; and he would present his judgment in terms of “so and so is culpable and so and so is innocent.

He was only occupied with Torah and with work. At midnight he would rise to lament the destruction of the Temple and thereafter he would occupy himself until midday with Torah and with work, which in his mind was prayer. Then he would drink a bit of not very hot coffee, and so that he would be obliged to say the final grace after meals he would eat a bit of bread with dumpling (?). Afterward, he would consider town matters and in particular, creature matters, the many needs of the children of Israel who came before him with the bitterness of soul and hardships of their days to receive his blessings and he would pray on their behalf that prosperity would be realized in the midst of the land. After the afternoon and evening prayers he ate chicken for his evening meal – he personally slaughtered two chickens every week that he would eat at the evening meal during the week.

There were those who opposed him there on these matters, for the learned of the city of Buchach were opposed to Hasidism. Consequently, they could not tolerate that their rabbi, the president of the court, was a famous rebbe and zaddik who extended the morning prayer until after midday, prayed in accord with the Sepharadi manner, and used the prayer book of Ha'Ari, of blessed memory. In addition, they were also infuriated by the fact that he did not use the ritual slaughterers of his community, but rather himself slaughtered fowl for his own daily use. On this matter, he, of blessed memory, apologized to them when he mentions the issue at the end of his book “Tefila L'David 10 .” Still, his holy words were of no avail in appeasing the anger and fury of the murmurers and complainers. They continued to murmur against him, but he was sustained, as it is said: “may his friends be as the sun rising in its might 11 . ”

5.

The illustrious righteous ones of the era corresponded with him with responsa and the great illustrious teacher and rabbi, Ephraim Zalman Margolioth of Brody, of blessed memory, wanted to expend monies from his own pocket to publish the new legal interpretations made by the illustrious rabbi, the Zaddik of Buchach. (As mentioned above, he was making eighteen such new interpretations each week). However, to his great sorrow, his intent to do so was never realized because the illustrious rabbi and teacher Ephraim Zalman died suddenly one afternoon. Report of the death of his dear, beloved, great illustrious friend, was extremely hard on him, for he was unable to publish his multiple, essential legal rulings.

He also was in correspondence with his son's father-in-law, the holy, illustrious Mameeri Derzin,(?) our rabbi and teacher of blessed memory of Zdechovice. Once they had an argument over the proper scribing of the letter “chet” in books, tefilin, and mezuzot. Our holy rabbi offered the new interpretation that only the second foot of the “chet” had to be in the same form on makes with the letter “zayin.” They dispatched multiple letters regarding this matter until finally the illustrious president of the court of Buchach wrote the following to the illustrious one of Zdechovice: There already was a controversy between ben Asher and ben Naphtali regarding the written form of the letters (as is known, in the time of the earliest of the Gaonim in the yeshivot of Tiberias). At that time a divine voice decreed in accord with the opinion of Ben Asher, and I, I am he, for I am Ben Asher 12 .

He also exchanged letters with the illustrious Rebbe Elimelech, of blessed memory, of Dynov as well as with all the rabbis of the provinces who dispatched their questions in matters of law to him.

And over the course of his living there, the number of his students greatly increased. Among the most outstanding and well known are:

The illustrious rabbi, our rabbi-teacher, Shlomo Dremaur (?), of blessed memory, president of the court of Skala 13, author of “Responsa of Beit Shlomo” on the four parts of the Shulkan Aruk and who was renowned as an outstanding “posek.”

The illustrious rabbi, our rabbi-teacher, Ephraim Elisha, of blessed memory, president of the court of Chernevtsy 14, who was a famous, holy Hasid.

The illustrious rabbi, our rabbi-teacher, Smeryl, of blessed memory, president of the court of Rimalov, author of “Iyun Tefila” on the siddur, based upon what he had heard from his rabbi, the illustrious holy one of blessed memory.

  • The illustrious rabbi and Hasid, our rabbi-teacher, Moshe, president of the court of Bedzonov (?).
  • The illustrious rabbi and Hasid, our rabbi-teacher, Dov, president of the court of Beien (?) of blessed memory.
  • The illustrious and famous rabbi-teacher, Shraga Feivel Shreier, of blessed memory, president of the court of Bogorodchany 15 who published the book “Daat Kedoshim” concerning ritual animal slaughter with his comments and notes under the name “Gedolei HaKodesh.”






    Translator's Footnotes:

    1) Risha, Raysha, is identified as Rzeszow in in G. Mokotoff and S. Sack, Where Once We Walked (Teaneck: Avotaynu, Inc., 1991). Return

    2) Nadvorna identified as Nadvornaya. Return

    3) I have not translated "marat" as Mrs. or Ms. seems anachronistic. Return

    4) Rabbinical scholarship dealing with application of and arbitration over points of law. Return

    5) Identified as Tysmenitsa in Mokotoff and Sack. Return

    6) Homiletical interpretation. Return

    7) Yazlovits or Yazlivitz is identified also as Pomortsy in Mokotoff and Sack. Return

    8) Identified as Peremyshlyany in Mokotoff and Sack. Return

    9) Identified as Grimaylov in Mokotoff and Sack. Return

    10) I think there is an error in the text here. It reads "Tefilah LaDor", but his book is entitled "Tefilah L'David." Return

    11) The quote is from Judges 5:31. There are numerous citations of biblical phrases in the piece. I have put in quotations only where such as here the words are presented as a citation. Return

    12) There is a word/name play here that I am not sure is conveyed well. His father's name was "Asher." Return

    13) Identified in Mokotoff, Sack. Return

    14) Identified in Mokotoff, Sack. Return

    15) Identified in Mokotoff, Sack. Return


    [Page 81]

    Rabbi Meshulam Igra

    Translated by Melanie Rosenberg


    Rabbi Meshulam Igra was a master sage from Tismenitz who later became the chief rabbi of Pressburg. Even the most prominent of scholars could not fully appreciate the extent of his greatness: his talents rendered him the embodiment of Israeli brilliance. A number of wise men of great intellectual talents, shining suns emanating great light, were among the distinguished men of Israel of the previous century (according to our count). One of the most eminent personalities whose exalted brilliance and sharp wittedness merited high accolades of praise, was Rabbi Meshulam Igra.

    Rabbi Igra was a scion of rabbis and great men of Israel (a descendent of the renowed Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel, author of “Meginei Shlomo”), but his father, Reb Shimshon, was a simple landowner from the city of Buchach in eastern Galicia, a chaste and honest man. Up until the last generation, elders of this city would speak wonders of his righteousness and integrity. In Buchach, the city of Rabbi Meshulam's birth, his father built a house adjacent to a Jewish-owned tavern whose proprietor permitted himself to keep the premises open on the Sabbath. Rabbi Shimshon was greatly distressed and tried time and time again to prove to his neighbor the error of his ways, reciting ethical parables and attempting to influence him to cease Sabbath desecration. But his neighbor the bartender scorned him and his example. Rabbi Shimson then went to the local rabbi and brought suit against his neighbor over monetary damages. When the neighbor received the summons, he was surprised and said, “At no time have negotiations ever taken place between me and Rabbi Shimson regarding monetary issues. What possible claim can he have against me in this regard?”

    When the trial began, Rabbi Shimshon arose and proclaimed, “Our sages have said (Tractate Shabbat, 119, B) “No conflagration is to be found, except in a place where desecration of the Sabbath occurs.” Since my neighbor the tavern owner desecrates the Sabbath, I fear that a fire will break out in his building and spread to consume my house as well. Therefore I demand that he do one of two things: either take upon himself the commandment to observe the Sabbath, or buy my house.”

    From this righteous man was born Rabbi Meshulam, of whom Rabbi Moshe Sofer testified “his two arms were as two Torah scrolls; it was impossible to grasp the enormity of his erudition and speed of intellect combined.” (from “Sermons of the Chatam Sofer, vol 1 ). And note this wonder: Rabbi Meshulam Igra was a “mitnaged” who opposed hasidut. Yet one of the greatest hassidic rabbis of his time, Rabbi Chaim of Chernowitz, (author of “Be'er Mayim Chaim” and “S'doro Shel Shabbat”) in his book “Sha'ar Tefilah” (“Gate of Prayer”) describes him as “the ultimate role model for his time, a mighty leader of Israel, a true genius, an ambassador of Torah, a light of purity unto the world, a crown of glory for Israel.” For according to hasidic legend, Rabbi Yisrael Baal-Shem-Tov himself once visited the city of Buchach where he laid eyes upon the son of Rabbi Shimshon, then a boy of four. The creator and master of hasidut looked at the child's face and turned to those assembled, saying, “Look and you will see: this child possesses a new soul, noble and exalted, the caliber of which has not existed in this world for several generations…”

    Still in his childhood, at the age of five, Meshulam astounded his community with his sharp intellectual perception. Once, as Meshulam sat with other children his age before their rebbe, the pre-school teacher listened as the toddlers read and repeated the verses (Genesis 37, 9-10) regarding Josef's dream: “Behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars bowed down to me…and his father rebuked him and said to him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamt? Shall I and thy mother indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee?” The children's rebbe then read them Rashi's commentary on these verses, focusing on Yosef's having dreamt that his late mother – represented by the moon – would bow down to him in future. From this our sages derived that within every dream there are elements which will not come true. At this, the young Meshulam sprung forward and asked his teacher, “Just because Yosef's dream included prophecies that were untrue, must we deduce that every dream contains elements that are untrue? Isn't this generalizing from the specific to the universal?” (such an axiom would defy gemara logic – m.r.)

    The children listened to the question posed by their peer and were silent, not knowing what to answer, but Meshulam could not remain still. After several minutes he once again asked, “Why did Yosef see fit to mention that he saw the moon in his dream, thus raising his father's ire as well as serious doubt as to the veracity of the dream? Wouldn't it have been more convenient had he totally omitted mention of the word 'moon,' a clear reference to his late mother, and not opened room for doubt?”

    “And yet,” added the child, his eyes glittering and his face shining, “one question explains another: Yosef related his dream verbatim, without omitting a word, for he was aware that every dream has an element which is untrue. Had he omitted the word 'moon,' his father and brothers would have searched for other false aspects of the dream. Keeping that in mind, Yosef related the dream in its entirety, with nothing excluded. And from this, the fact that Yosef was steadfast in mentioning the word 'moon' in his dream, our sages learn that there are no dreams without inaccuracies.”

    In his early childhood, at the age of eight, this wonder child began to compile his Torah interpretations into a book, and by the age of nine was well-versed in whole commentaries of the Mishna and Talmud. At that point, it was suggested to his father that his dear son become engaged to marry the daughter of Reb Shmuel Bick, one of the officers and wealthy men of Brody. At the request of the prospective bride's father, Rabbi Shimshon brought his son to Brody and to the town's main Bet Midrash. Here, in the presence of all of the wise scholars of Brody, the nine-year-old boy delivered a deep halachic discourse and stood his ground in a Torah debate with the local rabbi, the eminent Rabbi Yitzchak Horowitz (who later became the chief rabbi of Hamburg). As each articulated and argued his points, it was the child who claimed victory over the elder. When Rabbi Yitzchak Horowitz returned to his home, his young daughter came to greet him. He placed his hand upon her head and blessed her, saying, “May it be Thy will that you should marry a great man such as the delightful child who triumphed over me now in halacha.

    Thus the young Meshulam became engaged to marry the daughter of Reb Yitzchak Bick, and when he reached Bar Mitzvah age, they were wed according to the laws of Moses and Isarel. During his youth, he became renowned not only for his genius but also for being a tzadik, a righteous man. Yet his intense piety did not appeal to his young wife, the daughter of the officer and nobleman, and she began to demand a divorce. His father-in-law Reb Shmuel also became convinced that the match was not a successful one and began to urge him to grant his wife a divorce. Rabbi Meshulam acquiesced. A short time later he married the daughter of Rabbi Yitzchak Horowitz, the rabbi of Brody. Thus was fulfilled the rabbi's blessing for this very wise and righteous man.

    During this time, a heated argument broke out between the notables of Brody and her sages regarding the matter of a particular divorce. Some ruled that the divorce was null and void, others championed its validity, and among those arguing the issue was the 19-year-old Rabbi Meshulam. The sages of Brody, who enjoyed a reputation for their great Torah erudition, decided to request an opinion from Rabbi Yeshiah Berlin, the chief rabbi of Breslow whose incredible knowledge of every aspect of the Torah was known to the sages of his generation. Each of the Brody scholars wrote his own answer to the question at hand, and each of these letters, among them Rabbi Meshulam's, was sent to Rabbi Yeshiah Berlin. Rabbi Berlin poured over each viewpoint, one by one, and when he finished reading the answer given by Rabbi Meshulam, he cried in wonder and admiration, “This is an elderly man who has attained great wisdom! His intellect and keen insight are so profound that he could rival many of the great sages of yore.”

    Rabbi Yeshiah Berlin was intrigued to discover the identity of the author, someone whose name or existence he had never been aware. At that very time, Reb Shmuel Bick, the officer from Brody, happened to be in the city of Breslow. Although he was there on business, Reb Shmuel saw fit to pay a proprietary visit to the rabbi's home. Rabbi Yeshiah received him happily, and in the course of conversation asked if perhaps he knew a certain wise scholar in his city named Rabbi Meshulam Igra.

    “Yes,” replied Reb Shmuel. “He's still quite young, around fifteen or so.”

    “So young?” cried the rabbi in astonishment, “And I had no idea of his existence!”

    “May I ask why this interests the rabbi?” queried Reb Shmuel. “How many wise young scholars are there right here in Brody whom the rabbi of Breslow has never heard of?”

    “What are you talking about 'wise young scholars,'” retorted Rabbi Yeshiah, ”Rabbi Meshulam is a mighty genius, one of the few truly profound scholars of our day.”

    Upon hearing the words of this distinguished, elderly rabbi, Reb Shmuel Bick suddenly grasped his chest and collapsed to the ground in a faint.

    After he came to, Rabbi Yeshiah asked him, “What made you faint?

    “This young, mighty genius was formerly my son-in-law, and I convinced him to divorce his wife, my daughter,” replied Reb Shmuel with a bitter sigh.

    “If you once held such a precious, blessed vessel in your home and you yourself banished the holiness from the house, “ said Rabbi Yeshiah, “then you deserve to faint a second time!”

    Rabbi Meshulam Igra's reputation preceded him, and in time the Jewish community of Tismenitz, a city of scholars and writers and one of the nine largest communities in the Lvov district, turned to appoint him president of the area's regional rabbinical court. At that point he was all of seventeen years old! Rabbi Meshulam was as meticulous in his study of Torah as he was great in his knowledge and thoughts, never ceasing for a moment to serve the community, any time or place. Even as he traversed the path from his home to the Bet Midrash and back, he would be murmuring words of Torah, probing and postulating, discerning new interpretations, his lips moving to recite entire pages of gemara and Talmud as well as commentaries by Rambam and other halachic sages. Once, it is told, when the rabbi was walking through the marketplace, completely absorbed in pondering halachic issues, he was struck to the ground by a team of horses who raced by pulling a carriage. The townspeople who witnessed this dangerous, frightening occurrence raced to save the rabbi's life. As they pulled him out from under the wheels of the carriage, they heard him mumbling,

    “And from this, we must decide whether the approach of Rabbi Avraham Ben David of Poshkira (the RAB”D) is more appropriate than that of the Rambam.”

    In Tismenitz, Rabbi Meshulam found ample ground from which to disseminate Torah in Israel. From the town's yeshiva of higher learning which he established, scores of Torah scholars went forth to the people. Many of these scholars themselves became great lights in the celestial heavens of Judaism, such as these notable rabbis: Rabbi Mordechai Bennet, the rabbi of Nikelshporg, Rabbi Naftali-Tzvi Horowitz, father of the hasidic dynasty of Rashpitz, Rabbi Frenkel-Teumim, the rabbi of Lipnik, Rabbi Yaakov, the rabbi of Lisa, who called his rabbi, Rabbi Meshulam, “Rabeinu Tam,” and many others.

    And so Rabbi Meshulam was able to find contentment in Tismenitz, where he succeeded in glorifying and advancing Torah. Large, important communities with major Jewish centers came to offer him positions as the head of their courts. Yet he refused to leave Tismenitz. Where his greatness reigned, he exuded humility, telling his students that so limited was his knowledge of Torah and halachic innovation that he was not worthy of his post as the president of a rabbinic court in a city of the Jewish world. Rabbi Alexander-Sender Margalioth, the rabbi of Sotonov (author of “T'shuvot HaRA”M”), one of the leading religious leaders of the time and a friend and colleague of the author of “Nodah B'Yehudah,” used to say that he was strong enough to fight a Torah battle against the famed Rabbi Yehonatan Ivshitz, but not against Rabbi Meshulam Igra. Yet nevertheless, when the notables of the Three Communities (Altona, Hamburg and Wandsbek) approached Rabbi Meshulam and offered to have him assume the position of his father-in-law Rabbi Yitzchak Horowitz, he demurred, saying, “I am not able, nor worthy or entitled to sit upon the seat of the righteous sage Rabbi Yehonatan Ivshitz.”

    And when the community leaders pressed him, claiming that they would consider it a great honor for him to assume the position of his father-in-law in this rabbinical court, Rabbi Meshulam dispatched them to his wife, the daughter of Rabbi Yitzchak Horowitz, for her opinion. Naturally, the rebbitzin readily agreed to move from tiny Tismenitz to those three metropolitan communities, especially to greater Hamburg where her family was living. The messengers of the Three Communities returned to Rabbi Meshulam, their faces shining with joy, and reported, “Your wife agreed. Now there are no objections remaining to the Rabbi's acceptance of our offer.”

    Rabbi Meshulam nodded and said, “My wife, may she be blessed with long years, is worthy of being the rebitzen of the Three Communities just as she is worthy to be the rebitzen of Tismenitz. And I, small and young, know and recognize my paltry worth. Why, I am not even worthy to serve in the rabbinical hierarchy of the little town of Tismenitz, which deserves better. How much more do I lack the merit to serve as the president of the rabbinical court of the Three Communities…”

    And so Rabbi Meshulam Igra remained in his post in Tismenitz for twenty-seven years, and may well have continued there into his old age. Yet at that time, a royal edict came forth obligating all Jews to be conscripted into the military. The Jewish community of Tismenitz, like other communities in Galicia, was required to supply a certain number of conscripts each year. The leaders of Tismenitz were apt to overlook scholars for this task, preferring instead to send in their place ignorant, uneducated youth. Rabbi Meshulam lashed out vehemently against this practice: in the city's batei midrash he attacked the communal leaders who carried out this practice, accusing them of being slave traders and responsible for the bloodshed of innocent people. Rabbi Meshulam rose to publicly rebuke the community leaders, his words stinging in reproach, “There is no discrimination in the law. All of Israel, including talmudic scholars, all must obey the law of the land and be drafted into the army. And if the government demands of us only a certain number of people, then we must cast lots among all those Jews who are eligible to serve in the army. Whoever has the fate to be chosen, whoever he may be – even the greatest scholar of our times – he must enter and serve within the military.

    Rabbi Meshulam stood up and swore, “Even if the die is cast for my only son, Yitzchak Eliyahu (his father attested to the fact that his son's sharpness of intellect outreached his father's, yet Yitzchak died at a young age), then I will personally turn him over to the serve in the army.”

    Their great rabbi's words, however, were met with scorn by the community leaders, who refused to pay heed to his message. Thus Rabbi Meshulam decided that the time had come to leave Tismenitz, and when offered the post of chief rabbi of Pressburg, he agreed.

    It is told that when Rabbi Meshulam set out from Tismenitz to Pressburg, the notables and officers of Pressburg organized welcoming delegations to greet the rabbi along the route. On the way they stopped at an inn to eat and rest before the rabbi's arrival. There they treated themselves to a fine meal, all the while singing the praises of their new rabbi and his phenomenal knowledge and piety. From time to time, one of them would go out and scout the area, seeking signs of the rabbi's arrival. “Why is it taking the rabbi's wagon so long to get here? Why is he so late?”

    Meanwhile, at the very same inn a man and his wife sat inconspicuously eating a meal of dry bread. One of the notables of Pressburg struck up a conversation with them and asked, “Where are you from?”

    “From Tismenitz,” answered the man.

    “And where are you headed?”

    “To Pressburg.”

    “What's your name?”

    “Meshulam.”

    The questioner understood that this was indeed the new chief rabbi of Pressburg, Rabbi Meshulam Igra, who always fled from false honor and had no desire to enter the city with jubilant fanfare.

    Yet honor seeks out those who shun it. When it became known to the notables of Pressburg that their rabbi was present at the inn, they immediately hoisted him and his wife upon a grand carriage and prepared a majestic entrance to the city.

    And there, in the city of Pressburg, Rabbi Meshulam Igra established a grand Yeshiva which trained a cadre of the finest rabbis and educators who went forth to teach Torah and become lights unto the dispersed of Israel. Rabbi Meshulam Igra became renowned as a wise sage among sages, the rabbi of the children of the Diaspora.

    HaRav Y. L. Maimon


    [Page 81]

    Rabbi Abraham David

    Translated by Jessica Cohen

    Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sassov was a devoted follower of the tzadik of Berditchev. His student, Rabbi Abraham David, who later became the Rabbi of Buczacz, pleaded with his rabbi to permit him to travel to Berditchev, for he longed to observe the tzadik 's ways closely. But his rabbi refused to comply with his request. “We read in the Book of Daniel,” he said, “of the court attendants, 'who are unable to stand in the king's court.' Our sages interpreted this to mean that against their will they abstained from laughter, sleep and other things. And the work of Rabbi Levi Yitzhak is, that he burns with an eternal flame. Everything he does deepens his burning soul. Therefore, no one can stand close to him unless he is certain that he will be able to resist laughing when he sees the strange movements of the holy man as he prays and as he eats.” The student promised the rabbi that he would not laugh, and so the rabbi of Sassov gave him permission to travel to Berditchev for the Sabbath. But when he saw the tzadik sitting down at the table and his strange grimaces, he was unable to control himself and burst out laughing. He was immediately seized by a kind of madness and the laughter went wild and did not stop, until they had to take him away from the table and send him with a guard to Sassov when the Sabbath ended. When Rabbi Moshe Leib saw him, he wrote to Rabbi Levi Yitzhak: “I sent you a whole vessel and you returned it to me shattered.” The illness continued for thirty days, and then Rabbi Abraham David was suddenly healed. Since then, he holds a thanksgiving feast every year, and during the feast he tells all the details of the tale, and concludes with the quote: “Give thanks to God for He is good, His kindness endures forever.”

      (From “ Or Haganuz ” by M. Buber, p. 228)



    [Page 87]

    Rabbi Shalom Mordechai HaCohen Schwadron

    Translated by Melanie Rosenberg


    Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Hacohen Schwadron was considered to be the “Mashiv,” the ultimate rabbinical authority of his generation. He was recognized by the top rabbinical leaders of the day as a giant in the realm of Jewish education, renowned for his greatness in Torah knowledge and spiritual piety. Devoting these talents to the perfection of halachic understanding, the rabbi became the highest authority (“posek”) on questions of Jewish observance. No less a personage than the distinguished “Mashiv,” the sage Rabbi Yosef Shaul Natanzon, looked upon Rabbi Schwadron as his spiritual successor, saying, “I see no one in this generation who is a Talmid Chacham of his caliber.”

    Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Hacohen became the “Mashiv HaDor,” the ultimate rabbinical authority not only for the rabbis of Galicia, Poland and even Lithuania, but for the entire Disapora. The reputation of the sage of Barzhan reached far and wide, and from his 6-volume book “Responsa from the RASH'AM”(Rabbi Shalom Mordechai) as well as “Ways of Peace” we note that he received difficult, complex questions on educational matters from petitioners as far distant as America, Australia, China and Japan. Leading rabbis of great stature, among them Rabbi Meir Arik of Tarnov, also turned to him, acknowledging his superior authority on educational matters. Rabbi Shmuel Yankel of Radomishlah and Rabbi Nachum Weidenfeld from Dombrova, the Admor ( Hasidic master) of Sanibedg and other celebrated rabbis, also considered Rabbi Schwadron as the highest “posek.”

    In the educational world, great importance was attached to his works “Mishpat Shalom” (“Laws of Peace”) on “Choshen Mishpat” (a section of the Shulchan Aruch), which offered interpretations on the Shulchan Aruch, and “Hagahot V'Hidushim al Shas Ohr haChaim” (“Interpretations of the Talmud, Ohr Ha Chaim”), “Darchei Shalom” (“Paths of Peace”) on Talmud and its commentators, “Hagahot MRRSH”G al HaShas” (Interpretations of Rabbi Shimon Greenfeld on the Talmud). Yet it was the publication of three additional compositions by Rabbi Schwadron which aroused the greatest notice in the world of Torah and education: “Da'at Torah” (“Torah Wisdom”) on the laws of kosher slaughter, “Galui Da'at” (“Manifesto”) on sections 61-69 of the Talmudic book “Yoreh De'ah” (dealing with issues of ritual slaughter) and about the laws of kashrut. Yet a wave of criticism followed the publication of “Galui Da'at.” Several leading rabbis of the day took issue with Rabbi Shwadron's tendency towards leniency in various matters. One prominent opponent was Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Shapira, author of “Darchei Tshuvah” (“Paths of Repentance”), head of the rabbinical court of Monkatch, who claimed that certain of Rabbi Schwadron's rulings were based on very shaky foundations. In a show of great humility, Rabbi Schwadron responded by stating that his publication solely reflected his own personal opinion and that each and every teacher was entitled to make authoritative decisions based on his own conviction. Yet in practice, educators in Israel looked to Rabbi Schwadron for instruction, holding his directives as holy. Further credence was given to his stance with the publication of a special addenda to the book “Galui Da'at” called “The Final Pamphlet.” In this work, the rabbi took on his detractors, clarifying the interpretations and directives in question and posturing a firm premise for his positions.

    Rabbi Shalom Schwadron was also distinguished in his knowledge of Jewish legend and was well-versed in all sources of research and interpretation. He became renowned for his original ideas in Jewish thought, as presented in his book on Torah, “T'chelet Mordechai.” Further, he was an eloquent orator, famed for emoting pearls of wisdom which left a lasting impression upon his listeners.

    Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Hacohen merited great respect for his activities on behalf of public welfare. As deeply involved as he was in the education world, he would leave the four walls of the yeshiva in order to voice his opinions on matters of importance to the community. He assumed bold stands on issues which he deemed to be crucial to the needs of the time.

    In 1902, Rabbi Schwadron issued an appeal on behalf of supporting yeshivot and Talmidei Torah (the school system) which began with the verse, “and the Cohen (high priest) went out unto the people.” Even at that point, he was keenly aware of the urgency to organize the haredi public to strengthen their educational establishment. He was tapped to come to America to reestablish the post of chief rabbi of the New York Kollel, yet fully cognizant of the significance of that city's large concentration of Jews and future as a major Jewish center, Rabbi Schwadron felt himself too elderly for such a prestigious post and suggested a younger rabbi in his stead.

    Rabbi Schwadron established a yeshiva in Barzhan called “Tushiah” (“Wisdom”) with the goal of making it the first in a wide network of yeshivot. Indeed, a number of outstanding, erudite Torah scholars emerged from “Tushiah” to bolster the spirit of Torah in Jewish communities throughout Galicia. The rabbi was committed to the improvement and innovation of education in the heder. Toward this aim, he commissioned a renowned haredi pedagogue, Dr. Yosef Zeliger, to develop a blueprint for a new, more sophisticated educational curriculum. Yet the entire project was squelched due to the rigid opposition of certain noted haredi circles, with the admor (master) of the Belz Hasidim at the helm.

    In 1908 a major assembly of rabbis was convened in Lvov devoted to making financial arrangements for the Galician Kollel (yeshiva) of Rabbi Meir Ba'al HaNes in the Land of Israel. Deliberations from this gathering were prominently reported in the Jewish media of the day. Due to the vast spectrum of ideological stands represented among the delegates, the fear of dissention was noticeably present. For this reason, the participants voted unanimously to select a capable chairman acceptable to all: Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Hacohen Schwadron, the sage of Barzhan. So effective was the rabbi's leadership that just before the conference ended, a prestigious admor approached him saying, “Please, Rabbi, give me a blessing.” To the astonishment of those gathered, Rabbi Schwadron responded by reciting the traditional priestly cohen blessing.

    In his behavior and his daily conduct, Rabbi Schwadron showed no hint of favoritism or partiality. In his study of Torah, he was humble and took advantage of no man. At the venerable age of 70, the rabbi himself rose to take books from the shelves, never demanding the services of others. Exhibiting humility and simplicity, he avoided lording authority over others. Each morning he would step outside his home to scatter seeds for the birds and chickens. Rabbi Schwadron was also honored and respected by those outside the Jewish community: judges from the district court would frequently consult with him on particularly complex judicial matters.

    His home was the headquarters for the Central Committee, and here he tended to hundreds of inquiries and petitions daily regarding questions of what is permitted and what is forbidden, religion and law, kabbala, ritual slaughter, rabbinic ordination, the freeing of agunot, and more. Great was the rabbi's diligence in addressing these matters, as well as his rigorous tenacity towards learning. He was accustomed to making a schedule each day, assigning hours to the study of gemara, shulchan aruch, and other commentators. He never missed his regular daily lessons which included 25 chapters of Bible (Prophets and Writings), one section of mishnayot, and 18 pages of gemara.

    He was born in 1835 in one of the villages in the Zelochov district in eastern Galicia. His father, Reb Moshe Hachoen, a serious scholar in his own right, was committed to securing an outstanding Torah education for his son from very early childhood.

    Rabbi Schwadron's first teacher and rabbi, Rabbi Ashkenazi, noted that while he originally related to young Shalom Mordechai as a student, he later became a close friend. Eventually the tables turned completely and Rabbi Ashkenazi acknowledged his former pupil as his own rabbi.

    Rabbi Schwadron's first rabbinical post was in the city of Potok-Zloti from 1867-1871. From there he was appointed as head of the Rabbinical Court of Yazlovitch. Seven years later the rabbi became the head of the Rabbinical Court of Buchach. Following that, he served for a period of 30 years as the head of the Rabbinical Court in Barzhan prior to his death in 1911. His predecessor in the post was the distinguished sage Rabbi Yitzchak Shmalkis, the head of the Rabbinical Court of Paramishleh and author of the book of Responza “Beit Yitzchak.”

    Moshe Tzinovitz



    Photo Captions:
    A Lesson at the Beit Midrash
    The wall of the Great Synagogue
    The tombstone of Rabbi Yitzhak Kahen



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